New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg recently introduced an initiative to pressure the food industry to cut salt intake by half over the next decade.
Combined with the city’s ban on trans-fats and move to post calorie counts in restaurants, this is part of an emerging trend where the government is taking decisive steps to control what we eat. But, in the case of salt – to what end?
We really don’t know. It seems intuitive that cutting back salt lowers blood pressure, which reduces the risk of heart disease and saves on health care costs. But, low sodium levels don’t necessarily lower everybody’s blood pressure. For some people, lowering salt can actually raise blood pressure. Studies have also shown that salt affects mood – it can improve people’s mood and changes in intake can be associated with depression.
A 2006 study at Harvard concluded that the influence of salt is “too inconsistent and generally too small to mandate policy decisions.”
The fact is, despite 50 years of research, the link between a reduced salt diet and decreased mortality hasn’t been established. It’s difficult to laud Mayor Bloomberg’s decision as a win for public health when the consequences are so murky.
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